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First Light adventures
Danga Bay
25/10/2010, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

After nearly two weeks we are still securely tied up in Danga Bay Marina in Johor Bahru. The Sail Malaysia Rally dinner and official briefing for our sail up the west coast to Langkawi, was held last weekend. Prior to that we had two busy days in Singapore sightseeing and shopping. Singapore is a short bus ride over the causeway from Johor Bahru. There are about 80,000 Malaysians who travel each day across the causeway to work in Singapore, so it is always a busy thoroughfare. The infrastructure for customs and immigration on both sides is well developed and well managed. It is a straightforward and efficient process. We were very impressed with Singapore's rail and bus transport which is easy to use and gets you around the city quickly in air conditioned comfort! Our visit to the 'Battle Box' in Fort Canning Park was really interesting and informative. It consists of a group of underground rooms and tunnels which was used as the command centre by the British and allied forces during WWII. Extremely realistic life- size models of army personal produced in England similar to what you'd find in 'Madame Toussards ', help recreate the story of the days leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. It is an audiovisual exhibition with some of the models designed to appear as if they are actually speaking . Fort Canning Park is a peaceful, leafy retreat amongst the hustle and bustle, but one of the many 'green' areas of Singapore which has a cooling affect in an otherwise steamy climate. Last Thursday we enjoyed a tour of south Johor organised for the rally participants. We were taken down to the SE and SW tip of Malaysia which overlooks the Singapore Straits. A maze of boardwalks have been built in amongst the mangroves which are now a protected species and a focus on this environment has been developed into a tourist attraction. Surprisingly the mangroves were littered with all kinds of rubbish washed in from the adjacent busy shipping straits. Afterwards we were taken to a local village for a traditional Malaysian lunch which was quite delicious and then onto a pineapple museum(!) entirely devoted to the history of pineapple growing in Malaysia. Yesterday was 'Deepavalli- the festival of lights' one of the major festivals for the Indian community here. It is celebrated in a similar way to Christmas, with families dining together and exchanging gifts which is often money. Last night we heard fireworks being set off all over the place so guess that was the finale. For the rest of the community, the Chinese and Malays, it is just a public holiday and a chance to shop in the many plazas and dine out in the many restaurants. The Sail Malaysia Rally commences tomorrow with the first stopover being Malacca and apparently a very interesting place to visit. Unfortunately the anchorage in the bay there can be very exposed if the winds blow in strongly from the west. As it is only a 3 hour bus ride from Johor, we have decided to stay longer in the marina here and travel by road to Malacca, stay for three days and join the Rally tour and attend the official dinner. We will then return, set sail on Friday and catch up with the Rally further up the coast.

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Crossing from south to north!
25/10/2010, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

We finally crossed the equator early Tuesday morning just on sunrise. With calm seas and no wind we motored backwards and forwards plus sideways a few times, for photo shoots and to ensure it was a thorough crossing. That afternoon we celebrated on the beach with a 'crossing the equator party' with some crews from other boats, who had also just completed their first crossing. Dressing up as King Neptune we popped our first bottle of champers since leaving Darwin and toasted this momentous occasion, while being eaten alive by sandflies! The next few days we day- hopped, getting closer and closer to Singapore. Saturday evening we anchored on the edge of the Singapore Straits in preparation for our dash across the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Bern had spent quite sometime plotting our course and with the help of our AIS (automatic Identification System) which identifies and transmits to our electronic chart plotter the name and position of any shipping in the area in relation to us, plus relevant information like direction ,speed and size of each vessel we were able to make the crossing without too much difficulty. A thunderstorm in the middle of the crossing reduced our visibility considerably and it was quite surreal and a little disconcerting to see these large oil drilling rigs at anchor, appear out the mist. The storm cleared within half an hour and we are able to comprehend why this area has the reputation for being such a huge shipping hub. We saw about 50 or so large ships just sitting at anchor, besides all the other ships in transit. We were also amused to see a few very gutsy locals out in their little boats fishing on the edge of the Straits. From the Straits we entered a channel which took us up between the island of Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. Singapore seems to take its security very seriously. High wire fencing extends along the perimeter of the island with large signs attached at intervals featuring a skull and crossbones picture carrying a warning about live shootings!. As well, coast guard boats are strategically placed along the Singapore side patrolling the channel that separates it from Malaysia. A strong deterrent to any illegal immigrant! We are now safely tied up in Danga Marina (Johor Bahru) with many of the other rally boats from Sail Indonesia. We are now part of the Sail Malaysia rally to Langkawi which begins October 30th with a few days of festivities in the marina. In the meantime we plan to travel over the causeway into Singapore for some sightseeing. Johor Bahru is the second largest city in Malaysia so we should be able to reprovision and pick up any spare parts here quite easily.

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28/10/2010 | Jane
Exciting stuff!! Congratulations on crossing the equator! Graham flies to KL on 6th November, for a month. We went to Langkawi when we lived over there - lovely spot!
Farewell Indonesia!
10/10/2010, Belitung

Belitung is our final destination for the Sail Indonesia rally and a fitting place to say "good-bye" to Indonesia. It is a very tranquil, tropical island situated off the east coast of Sumatra. and one of the very few places we have visited on our journey, that has clean, white sandy beaches with very clear turquoise water. The local tourist group are well organized and their thoughtful planning has helped make our visit here a memorable one, with free bus transport to all the festival visits as well as shuttles into the main town for shopping. A team of guides - local teachers of English, seconded to assist with the rally have been on hand to help with whatever is needed. Each time we dinghy onshore, there are a group of uniformed locals waiting on the beach to lift our tender from the water up onto the beach. Such great service! The local villagers have been extremely welcoming and always keen to practise their 'English' on us at every opportunity, especially the young teenagers. On Monday we were bussed 70kms across to the southern part of the island to lunch with the Regent( similar to a mayor) as well as visiting a local museum, watching some cultural performances and visiting a Buddhist temple. The Dutch colonised the island and helped develop the tin mining that in years gone by has made Belitung quite a prosperous island for Indonesia. Unfortunately the landscape is now marred by the tailings of the tin mining which no longer brings in the income it once did. As with many of the areas we have visited during this rally, the local governments are keen to develop tourism within their area and see Bali as something to emulate. The bay we are anchored in at the moment and the surrounding area has great potential as an international tourist destination. Amazingly, it doesn't rate a mention in Lonely Planet at all, this would be a great starting point! We enjoyed our farewell dinner for the rally participants on Wednesday evening and were entertained by local dancers, speeches by dignitaries and an impromptu performance by a British couple in the rally, who both turn 70 at the end of the week! Many of the boats have cleared with customs and immigration here and since yesterday, there has been a constant trickle of yachts departing for either Singapore or Malaysia. We plan to leave tomorrow morning and sail for Johor Bahru in Malaysia, just upriver from Singapore. Bern has been plotting our course carefully, as this passage involves navigating the Singapore Straits which is well known for being the busiest shipping stretch of water in the world!!!! We will travel in company with a few other boats and plan to stopover and get together, just north of the equator, for a 'crossing the equator' celebration! We hope to be in Malaysia around the 24th October.

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02/10/2010, Kumai, Kalimantan

We arrived in Kumai, Kalimantan after a slow three day trip across the Java Sea with little or no wind to speak about, so the motor got a solid workout. Kumai is situated 10nm up a wide river (Kumai River)and is a working port. So we are anchored close by to some large ships. The current here is particularly strong over 2 knots due to the amount of water running downriver and the tidal effect. Being two degrees south of the equator it is very humid and hot, so most afternoons we get a downpour of rain, which is a good opportunity for many boats to fill their water tanks. On Thursday we took a day trip up a tributary of the main river to visit the Tanjung Puting National Park where Orangatans literally hang out! We travelled by speed boat with another rally couple and had a very informative guide on board who spoke good English and was an expert at spotting various wildlife in the jungle growth which lined the river. During the day, we were taken to two feeding stations (morning and afternoon) where the rangers bring out bagfuls of bananas and place them on a raised platform to encourage the oranagatans out to eat. These animals are very strong and show incredible dexterity as they swing through the tree tops. It was amazing to see them scaling up a tree with a large handful of bananas in one hand,extra ones in their mouth and the other hand tethering them to the trunk. Many of the orangatans in the National Park have been rescued from captivity and released back into the park. They are often captured as babies by the locals and kept as pets, but become a problem to handle as they grow larger. In between watching the orangatans feed, we wandered through the forest for over an hour with our guide Andy providing explanations of the various plants - we saw many pitcher plants which are carnivorous and watched as a preying mantis almost became dinner for one of them. We were thrilled when we realised a mother orangatan carrying a small baby and a toddler in tow, were following behind us, as we walked. We then spent quite some time interacting with them and feeding them a few bananas. They are very observant and knowing animals and carefully watch your hands and backpacks to see if there is to be any food forthcoming! As we travelled back home to our boat, we spotted many Probiscus monkeys which are only found in the jungles of Kalimanatan plus some more orangatans and the Hornbill bird which is referred to by the locals as the hippo bird due to the shape of its beak which is similar to a hippos large mouth! Kumai town is quite basic but has a traditional market, many little stores all selling the same products and some very decorative mosques. We bought half a kilo of fresh prawns this morning for the equivalent of $2 Australian!! The town has many tall apartment-style buildings which from afar look like office buildings with very small windows. As you arrived in the town the sounds of twittering birds was very pronounced. The reason for this being that these buildings are for swallows to fly in and build their nests. The swallows use only their own saliva to construct the nests- nothing else. These nests often containing small eggs which are then more valuable, are retrieved and exported to China for their famous (very authentic) Birds Nest soup!! It is a thriving industry here and worth a lot of money to the local economy. Apparently it is much more lucrative than a hotel of the same size. From Kumai we will head about 250nm west to Belitung, which is the last rally stopover and where we exit Indonesia around the 15th October.

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Beautiful Bali
20/09/2010, Lovina Bay, Bali

After our five day in Medana Bay on Lombok Island where we enjoyed a cultural performance and gala dinner as part of the rally, we set sail for Lovina Bay, Bali. Due to lack of wind once again, we motored all the way, but made it in time for a safe entry between two coral reefs into the bay, late afternoon. Lovina Bay is an official rally stopover, so tomorrow is the start of the festivities which include more cultural performances and another gala dinner at one of the restaurants that line the beach here. This particular restaurant is owned by an Australian and has apple crumble on the menu, much to Bern's delight! On Sunday we took a trip by car to Ubud situated in the foothills of southern Bali and about 25kms north of the capital Denpasar. It was a little more 'touristy' than we expected, but surrounded by beautiful green rice paddy fields so it seemed more rural than urban. The drive across the steep mountain range that separates the south from the north side of the island is quite spectacular with great views down into the valleys and across to terraced rice paddy fields. Being a 2 1/2 hr trip we had a night off the boat and stayed in a hotel made up of separate bungalows set in lush tropical gardens in the centre of Ubud. We dined in one of the many good restaurants there and managed to find a great bakery serving lates and selling very good bread. We have found the Indonesian style of bread to be light ,fluffy and very sweet. While there we also experienced a night of torrential rain and can now understand why Bali has such lush tropical growth with much land used for market gardens and rice growing. As Bali is about 85% Hindu there are many ornate temples to visit with enormous statues of various gods and mythical animals. The Hindu's daily devotion to their Gods involves quite a ritual. Small bamboo boxes containing perfumed frangipani of various colours, maybe some rice or other food and a burning incense stick are placed on the footpaths outside homes and shops or at altars made up of a statue and a place to hold the offerings. Most shops have an altar and of course all the homes have one. At certain times of the day a small ceremony is performed. A young girl carrying a tray of these packages, will place each one of them at various points around the outside of buildings and inside at the altar. While doing so, she waves her hand with a piece of frangipani between fingers over the offering, as if giving a blessing. The ceremony is very quiet and graceful.. I think the smell of incense and frangipani will always remind us of our visit to Bali. We returned once again by shuttle car Monday afternoon and during the trip frequently had our 'hearts in our mouths' as the driver, an Indonesian version of Michael Schumacher, negotiated the winding roads and sharp bends back over the mountains. Most Indonesians seem to use a motor scooter for their own personal use, as well as, the whole family transport, so the roads are full of them. Many are loaded to the hilt with all manner of things. The young children are not bound by law to wear a helmet so they look very vulnerable riding along squeezed in between their mum and dad who are both wearing one! We will be here till the end of the week, then we will head north again to Kumai in Kalimantan.

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West without wind!!
10/09/2010, Gilli Islands!

As the title suggests, we have gone further west with flat seas mostly, and little or no wind. Bern has just calculated that we have done 57 hrs of motoring in the last week, we normally try to sail everywhere. Oh dear, our 'carbon foot print' just got a bit bigger!! The weather is very benign with no sign of any decent wind for days, so not a lot of choice if we want to make miles. The only upside to travelling this way is that the batteries are fully charged, the water tanks are full and we have plenty of hot water, so a few compensations! We moved along the north side of Sumbawa Island with a few stopovers at small villages for a nights break. Yesterday we had planned a stopover at Medang Island, but when we arrived a sloppy sea was rolling into the anchorage and the thought of a rolly night ahead didn't appeal, so we decided to keep going another 85nm to the Gilli Islands at the western end of Lombok Island. We arrived at Gilli Tragawanin in the early hours of this morning and on daylight came into the anchorage and were lucky enough to pick up a mooring. This island is our first taste of a tourist resort since we have started the rally. Apparently the Gilli Islands are a great place to dive, snorkel and surf, being surrounded by reefs and good ' wave breaks'. As it is very close to Bali, the area seems to attract many of the tourists who are on holiday there. There are direct boat trips daily from here to Bali on offer plus many ferry shuttles going back and forth to Lombok Is. carrying tourists. It seems a very laid back resort with many backpackers and young couples wandering around on holidays. There are a number of dive shops, bars (even an Irish bar)and restaurants catering for the tourist appetite.! So we enjoyed our first western breakfast since leaving Darwin- bacon and eggs, an omellet and cappcucino and lattes, - it was delicious! We also spotted a place selling wood fired pizza and are seriously considering one for dinner tonight. There are quite a few anchorages amongst the Gillis, so we will stay here for a few days before we sail (hopefully) onto Bali.

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13/09/2010 | Alistair Murray
G'day Di and Bernie,
Just great to hear from you, to get back on your blog and to catch up with your reports from the past month or two. Very bad for my productivity, but justifiable as I am in the sailing industry!
Speaking of which, do stop by and make yourselves known to the Ronstan dealer for the Gillis; he is a major customer of ours!
Married life at home is great and Hammo was great too.
Weather now getting warmer, which is great for cycling!
Love from Al and Tracey
14/09/2010 | Leon
I'm sailing with you - keep up the reports.
BTW, we have replaced your Citroen with a Pug 307, but the good news is that we passed on the Xantia to our son Mitch so it still lives in the driveway. You do remember what a driveway is, don't you?
Leon and Sue

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First Light 111 Adventures
Who: Bernie
Port: Melbourne Australia
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